Participamos na mais recente edição de capa dura da Images Publishing. Esta publicação foca-se -mais do que na arquitetura- no processo de desenvolvimento que suporta todas as fases da concepção do desenho que culminará na obra construída.

Com o contributo de vinte arquitetos reconhecidos, os princípios de concepção de cada um dos autores são desenvolvidos pela voz dos próprios, apoiados por desenhos, fotografias de projetos e esquissos, num exercício muito interessante e altamente pedagógico.

“An architectural project can be seen as a solution for a set of requirements inscribed on a set of circumstances.”

Tiago do Vale, founder of Tiago do Vale Arquitectos, studied architecture at the University of Coimbra in Portugal and has a postgraduate degree in Advanced Studies in Architectural Heritage from the University of Porto. He was a Senator at the University of Coimbra and a member of the University Assembly. Do Vale writes articles and monthly columns for prestigious Portuguese and international print publications. He also curates architectural events: such as Urban Dialogues, International Architecture Congress in 2014 and Mesturas, International Architecture Encounters Galicia-Portugal in Spain and Portugal from 2014 to 2019.

The Garafim House has a tense dialogue between vernacular principles and a more abstract understanding of form, place, and landscape. In the context of a naturally fragmented and disconnected environment, Gafarim House offers a monolithic, opaque volume to the street, referencing the parallelepiped and massive volumes of northern Portuguese architecture, and adjusting that to the surrounding scale.

The entrance is a long transitional space that connects the exterior to the interior. From opaque to transparent, from shadow to light, this progressive contrast represents the duplicities and contradictions of the design concept. From the compressed entrance, the space expands to a double-height volume that houses the open-plan kitchen, and dining and living room, citing the domestic organization of the region’s vernacular homes.

A generous glass wall offers views of the property and Minho beyond. Natural light is moderated through the northeast openings and it animates the architecture throughout the day and year. The private rooms of the house develop without any explicit separation, with all bedrooms facing southeast. A small interior patio serves both the main bedroom and the bathrooms, and allows for the creation of a space that is formally inside of the house, but symbolically apart.

With vernacular and contemporary references, Gafarim House is a project about contradiction, opposition, and provocation, condensed in a simple, pragmatic structure.

How do you resolve the unfavorable aspects of site conditions?

An architectural project can be seen as a solution for a set of requirements, inscribed on a set of circumstances. Though both the requirements and the circumstances could be seen as limiting (and unfavorable) factors to the full expression of an architectural object, the truth is that these conditioning elements are what shape the architecture. They are the theme and the guiding line for the solution; one couldn’t exist without the other. They are not a trap; they are the fuel.

In the case of Gafarim House, the site presented a street facing the sunlight, while expansive views faced north, inverting what we would usually seek. Embracing the circumstances produced a project that is opaque and mysterious to the street, while taking the opportunity to open itself extensively to the landscape in a way that would be impractical to do if facing south and the direct sunlight.

How do you put forward solutions comprehensively and objectively without any prejudgments?

Architectural design is an exercise of great complexity. To find a good solution, we must both rationalize the problem and risk intuitive jumps in a very demanding balance. But an efficient architectural process should always progress from the most general questions toward the particulars.

Neither a detail should be set before understanding the global aspects of a project, nor any particular option be excluded before the general strategic options are mastered.

How do you perceive the abstract architectural space?

Architecture isn’t a static art. Though generally, a building doesn’t move, we move through it, and with the movement comes a sequence of spatial experiences. That sequence— the “architectural promenade,” as Le Corbusier famously coined it—should be an object of design with as much fervor as the shape of the walls because the true experience of architecture is invariably dynamic.

We approached the Gafarim House entrance sequence that way. It begins with a blind façade that only communicates its entrance point. As we approach the door, the space compresses under a lower roof, creating a place of transition that expands to the interior when crossing the door. At the end of the entrance movement, the space finally decompresses to a double-height and fully transparent area, relishing that sensorial contrast.

How do you coordinate the relationship between function, space, style, and circulation?

Architecture is a balancing act. Most of the time, the work of the architect isn’t about providing an answer that solves all, but about finding the answer that presents the best balance between the performance of the building and the price one has to pay for it. It is about finding the best compromise between all the moving parts, all the circumstances, and all the demands. For that, one has to have a strong grasp of the nature of all these parts and how they relate to each other.

In this project, the most demanding compromises were in the balance between natural light and the site characteristics, and the balance between transparency and privacy.

How do your plans and ideas contribute in deriving a design?

Sometimes, certain solutions are motivated by latent interests of the office, theoretical beliefs, and pre-existent schemes— forces that exist prior to the project (and outside of it) and which will shape it. In the Gafarim House project, because the challenges were slightly unusual, the solution came directly from the requirements of the project and the circumstances of its place. The Gafarim House was informed, of course, by all the ideas and plans we always have lingering in our minds, but what generated its design came entirely from its own starting point and from its process.

How do you try to understand your clients’ intentions?

The starting point for a project has to be the client’s requirements. Different clients have a different grasp of the possibilities and of the implications and consequences of each option. So, even if the requirements are to be taken literally sometimes, it is also possible that they have to be interpreted to determine the reasons behind them and find a program that answers those reasons in the best way possible. As it frequently happens with residential architecture, the clients’ intentions are quite standard. The challenge in this project was to adapt those intentions to a plot that had a non-standard relationship with the sunlight, the views, and the street.

How do you incorporate your client’s proposals into your design schemes?

Our aim in architecture is to always simultaneously answer dozens of different questions and dozens of different problems with a single, simple gesture. That elegant, systematic approach will have positive implications for the development of the project and for the quality of the built work. But, of course, rarely such a broad stroke will hold up to scrutiny against the minute requirements of an architectural project and its client’s demands. The process needs do happen the other way around. The beginning can’t be a masterstroke. It all has to start from a deep understanding of the client’s requests, the possible compromises, and of the potential solutions that can be harmonized with them.

How do you make evaluations and judgments on your own schemes?

There may occasionally be a distance between the abstract strategies of a design and the concrete practicalities of the client’s requests. Though the first aims to give an encompassing answer to the second, it is important to regularly evaluate that the commanding design principles don’t compromise the pragmatic objectives of the design.

How do you stay curious in complex and disordered situations?

Chaos, disorder, and curiosity are central to informing the structured, systematic development process of a project. The process of Gafarim House was no different in that regard: we kept feeding on all sorts of sources that could provide new information, new stimuli, unexpected solutions, and provocations to our process, be it from, you name it, colleagues’ work, from plastic arts, music, fashion, industrial design, poetry, and more. Without that flow of varied input, a design can become poorer or, worse, stagnant.

When designing, not all of an architect’s ideas can always be fully realized. Could you share on how to handle such a situation?

There’s always a distance between abstract concept and built concept. Sometimes, the architect can be ambitious in trying to push the envelope to realize a certain vision, however, that can create friction with other pragmatic aspects of the development of a project, be it because of technical challenges or budgetary challenges.

We had faced such a moment during the design of Gafarim House with the glass façade that opens toward the landscape. We had aimed to design it with bigger glass panes and fewer divisions, which would have placed a lot of pressure on the costs and the structural demands of the solution. This generated the compromise seen on the final design.

Technical or budgetary constraints are legitimate project input and the resulting designs are genuine and truthful solutions; they shouldn’t be cast away as they are hallmarks of good architecture.

When you worked on this project, how did you strive to maintain your original idea from beginning to end?

We always work intensely—starting from the most general questions toward the more detailed particulars. For an idea to survive the entire process, we have to exhaust all possibilities and select the best possible option at each stage before progressing to the next.

With Gafarim House, we had to solve the program distribution and its relationship with the street, the sunlight and the views. We didn’t move to any other particulars before locking the ideal composition in the most general ways. This allowed us to be confident that no surprises would emerge as the project developed, to generate new data contributing to its design.

How do you make a comprehensive judgment on a design’s progress and optimize the process?

The single most impactful aspect in the quality of architectural design is neither the individual capacities of the people involved, neither the choices of software used, nor the time and money a client has. The process is the most impactful thing in the quality of an architect’s work. Systematizing base-work production, conceptual approaches, development stages, drawing standards, review systems, and detailing parameters can streamline the architectural process, make it more efficient, and facilitate higher and consistent quality standards. It is the foundation for a creative design to reach its highest potential.

How do you identify critical problems and seek solutions?

I find that, most of the time, the critical problems and their solutions are what will set the theme of the project. However, one has to set the process in such a way that these are identified at the very first steps of the development of the project. If they come later, and if they truly are critical, they won’t be properly solved without a full reconsideration of the design strategy, which will be both frustrating and costly. Identifying the critical aspects of a particular project is the first moment of our process, and we did the same with Gafarim House. At those moments, we have the entire office pour over the circumstances of the project and its requirements, and with different sets of eyes, skills and of sensitivities, we pinpoint the key challenges that will make or break the project and which need to be solved by it.

What role does teamwork play in identifying problems that may have been overlooked?

There is no replacement for teamwork in an architectural practice. Different sensibilities, different skills, and different eyes can generate a much richer and more complete approach to the process, review it more critically, and produce fitter responses.

How do you respond to unexpected problems that occur during the design process?

The identification of the critical aspects of the project is placed at the very beginning of the development process, precisely in order to minimize unexpected problems. If a problem arises at a later stage, we need to evaluate if its scope fits inside the flexibility of the solution we’re working on. However, if it’s a critical, central problem that the solution didn’t contemplate, then that makes the solution the problem. We’d have to go back to the drawing board and start from scratch. The Gafarim House project didn’t suffer from those sorts of difficulties, though. Once the solution was generally fixed, its development progressed on a linear path.